We used to have a pretty clear idea of what it meant to “run online events:”. There were really only a few things that fell into that category: group meetings and perhaps online conferences. Since COVID-19, running online events can mean a whole spectrum of things – anything from a book club via video call, to a live-streamed yoga class, to a rave in your living room.
I’ve been running online meetings for years due to being freelance, inlcuding running my business when based internationally. I’ve also spent a lot of time integrating social media conversations into live televisions broadcasts – which, when you come down to it, really isn’t all that different from a Zoom call with chat along the side. So I’ve learned a few different techniques for facilitating conversations online, whether it’s a video call, text chat, or a fusion of the two.
Here are the lessons I’ve learned to help you get your online evens up and running faster.
There is always a chance that the people in your online event haven’t ever been to an online event before. They might not have used a video call, or dialled into an online meeting. Work on the assumption that at least one person may not be familiar with either the technology and online etiquette, so it’s useful that at the start of a meeting, workshop or class, to set some expectations with a bit of housekeeping.
Some things you might want to verbally mention at the start of the meeting are:
- Everyone is on mute unless they are speaking so everyone can hear without background noise
- Participants when speaking should be on video (unless their internet connection is unstable) – this is obviously personal preference!
- Share if there is a chat and what content might be useful to share
- Participants can optionally share their screen if it’s easier to show something than talk about it
- Confirming if the call is recorded or not (transparency is always useful to help people feel more comfortable).
- Email and web browsers should be closed to minimise distractions and phones kept on silent
This housekeeping helps everything run a bit more smoothly, because everyone knows what’s expected of them, even if it’s their first time using this technology.
Additionally, before the meeting, you might want to request people dial in five minutes before the meeting, so that any tech issues can be addressed prior to the start of the meeting, so that the meeting can start and finish on time.
Sharing additional instructions for how to install or use the software as a p.s. to an email wouldn’t hurt if you suspect some attendees will have not used your video conferencing software before at might need some additional hand.
Get to know your tools
In person, a lot of our communication is non-verbal. A look, a gesture, a smile. With online conferencing, a lot of subtle information is missed, so we just need to work harder to convey that information that is usually nonverbal.
This means that we need to get to the know the full suite of tools available to us in our video conferencing or live-streaming software. It might be that there is a chat option where people share information quickly, it could be screensharing, it could be little emojis of applause. Finding out what tools your audience can use and considering how these tools can help support you convey some of that non-verbal communication is essential.
It’s also worth researching the tools that administrators or meeting hosts have – there are often additional features which can help the meeting run smoothly for them. For example, the ‘mute all participants’ feature is a simple way to get the meeting going without having to ask five times “who has that siren in the background? Can you mute yourself – who – who has the siren?”.
Admins can also lock the room, to not only prevent people dialling in late and interrupting the discussion – but to prevent strangers accidentally dialling in, doing a little dance and dashing.
And my final point on tools is to acknowledge that no single tool will be able to do everything. You might need to combine digital tools to create the effect you want. For example, you may want to survey your audience, but don’t just rely on something built into your video call software, when there might be a better tool that exists. For example, creating a Google Form and put the link in the chatbox might be a better solution. Mix and match.
Spending thirty minutes doing some research into the tools available to you will save endless headaches over the next few weeks. (I recommend doing this with some girlfriends and a glass of wine, but hey, you can skill up however you want!)
Keep it simple, silly
The “KISS” rule has been a go-to in digital for a long time: keep it simple, silly. The harder it is for your audience to do something, the more likely they are to get overwhelmed, and before they’ve even made a conscious decision, they are immediately mentally “checking out” and won’t engage.
Make it as simple as possible for people to dial in. Some suggestions are:
- Send one single dial in link
- Make it visually easy to find the dial in link your message (have it bold, surrounded by space)
- Make it easy to find in terms of timing, by adding it to the calendar invite, or resend the link fifteen minutes before the call so participants don’t need to dig into their email history from three weeks ago to get the information.
- Make the time of the call clear, including what timezone or city you’re hosting the event from
If you’ve received a meeting request that has fifteen dial-in codes – one for every country – you know how intimidating it can feel to receive complex dial in information, minutes before a meeting you’re already nervous about. If everyone is in the same country, for example, those fifteen codes do not need to be sent. Just the one does.
Reduce the visual clutter and give the one dial in link, so that 90% of people are able to access the call in one click. For those 10% who might need to dial in via phone, add this information either as an attachment, or a link to further dial-in resources.
For some community groups I’ve been a part of that have shifted online, I actually let people know that I am available the day before to jump on an old-school phone call, talk them through installation and help them get up and running so that they aren’t left feeling unsupported. Depending on your audience, you may want to put in that additional time to make them feel confident using the technology with that 1:1 support.
If you’re running something online where you usually refer to a lot of additional resources, such as a workshop, do your best to plan ahead and think about all the items you will be referring to, so you can have them handy.
For example, you might have a blog post that you’re written which has additional information which you think it’s likely you’ll refer to to in your workshop. Don’t spend five minutes in the call searching for it and then pasting it into the chat; have it handy so you can quickly and easily copy and paste the link in seconds.
I recommend keeping a notepad or textedit file to the side of your screen and keep links to resources you will be referring to there for easy access.
If you think you’ll be running a survey or poll, create it in advance say it in the system and publish it as it happens.
Sure, there will always be things we think of live as they happen, but if you can minimise the interruption of finding additional resources during a live event, everyone will enjoy it all the more because it will feel like a seamless experience.
Get a support team
Depending on the size of your event, you might not want to run it alone. If you’re running an online event with five people, it might be totally possible to facilitate discussion, resources and questions without a support person. But if that number gets to twenty, fifty or a hundred – it is significantly harder to manage all of these things at once.
This is where a support person can come in, such as a moderator. Their job might be to simply mute and unmute speakers as they present, or to monitor the live chat stream and flag the best questions which come through to the main presenter (I always love a shared Google Doc between the moderator and presenter for this kind of thing!).
You could also run a collaborative event, where you have multiple speakers, so that the weight of talking for an hour doesn’t fall to one person, and it’s easier to manage the chat feed if multiple people are aware of the key elements that need to be managed.
When you’re running an online event, there’s a lot that goes in behind the scenes to ensure it goes smoothly.
- Make it as simple as possible for your audience to dial in
- If your audience aren’t confident with this new technology, that’s ok! Offer support to help them get there. All video call software has free how-to guides
- Set expectations with your audience about both the tools they can use in the online session, but also about online etiquette (such as muting themselves when not speaking).
- Pre-plan links to resources, polling or links so that you’ve got them handy and can share them with your audience quickly and efficiently. It will make your event looks super slick.
- Consider getting a support team on board, either to take turns managing the conversation or to help moderate the chat.
I hope this has given you some ideas on how you can better manage online events you’ve got coming up, whether it’s a business event, community event, or even perhaps an 80s themed dance-off with your besties. Oh, as if it’s not in your calendar already!
Want to work with Rachel?Rachel Beaney is a writer and social media content specialist, helping businesses connect with their audiences.
She’s worked with local, national and global companies, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping businesses tell their stories with creative and data-driven solutions.
She is based in Sydney, Australia.
Want to work together? Rachel would love to hear from you. Get in touch today.